Dateline: January 14 2014. This day, a glorious chapter came to an end in the chequered history of the Nigerian Navy; an outstanding epoch came to a delightful close.
That Tuesday, Admiral Dele Joseph Ezeoba, Nigeria’s 20th Chief of Naval staff pulled out of the navy, bringing to an end an exceptional career that was two years shy of four decades.
Truth, indeed, is the saying that it is not how long, but how well. AlthoughVice Admiral Ezeoba’stour of duty as the nation’s Naval Chief lasted only 15 months, his remarkable achievements and indelible strides within that short period remain a cogent testimony to man’s incredible ability to utilize little time and meager resources to work monumental feat that will be a reference point for others to aspire to.
But for the few who keenly followed the career progression of this brilliant mariner from the beginning, that he attained the pinnacle of his calling and left behind indelible markswas given.
Long before he enlisted in the Navy at barely 18 years old in 1976, he had made it known to everyone that cared to know that it was either the uniform career or nothing. He dreamt of a career in the navy, he worked hardto have it and when he got it, he gave it his all- everything he was endowed with. The outcome could not have been otherwise but what it turned out to be.
And his career attainments before landing the ultimate naval job actually prepared him for the task ahead. A Navigation and DirectionSpecialist, Specialist Warfare Officer and a logistician, the Admiral had also intellectually equipped himself for the great moment, earning a Master’s degree in Strategic Studies from the University of Ibadan and Havard Kennedy School of Government, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
In Naval formations and commands, this hardworking Vice Admiral had his footprints and served with distinction as a way of preparing himself for the ultimate challenge. He was Commanding Officer, NNS Brass, and NNS EKPE during the ECOMOG operations in Liberia and Sierra-Leone. He also had the singular privilege of commanding the Nigerian Navy flagship, NNS ARADU.
In recognition of his outstanding competence and professionalism as a Commanding Officer, he was honored with the prestigious and highly coveted Command at Sea Badge.
Armed with these accomplishments, vast knowledge of the navy and hands-on experience, Vice Admiral Ezeoba resumed duty as the Chief of Naval Staff with a clear vision of what he wanted to accomplish within the shortest time possible. His first step was the promulgation of Nigerian Navy Strategic Guidance 01 which encapsulates his vision of leadership with emphasis on its objectives and deliverables defined by key performance indicators, KPIs, within the context of clearly defined methodology guided by the imperatives of time and space.
Military historians will in future rememberEzeoba as a Naval Chief who gave pirates, illegal bunkerers and other criminals on the high seas a run for their ill-gotten wealth and a bloody nose.
But he did not just take a plunge in his uncompromising battle to defend the nation’s territorial integrity and her economic interest without adequately preparing his officers and men for the task.
As a logistician and specialist warfare officer, his experience taught him that to fight such sophisticated economic saboteurs such as these ones that had taken over our high seas, you needed adequate firepower and well trained officers and men. Building a highly technological and contemporary Navy became his obsession once he took charge.
To achieve his dream of the strongest navy in the Gulf of Guinea, he immediately embarked on the reactivation and recapitalization of the nation’s naval fleet with the acquisition of six new seaward defense boats and 2 inshore patrol crafts, thereby advancing the policing function of the nation’s navy of its waterways.
And it didn’t just stop at that. To realize his dream of Nigeria’s first Naval offshore patrol vessels, he made huge investment towards its construction in China. Espousing the concept of local content long before it became the catch pharse, the Admiral empowered Nigeria’s own Naval Shipyard Limited to build another patrol vessel.
With binoculars envisioning future naval campaigns beyond his time in service, the Vice AdmiralEzeoba led crew took the bull by its horn. Eight warships that had suffered tremendous wreckage and thereby rendered non-operational were given life extension refits, and embarked on the construction of a 38m seaward defense boat by a subsidiary of the navy, Naval Dockyard Limited. All these were accomplished in addition to empowering the Fleet support groups through reactivation of slipways, provision of engineering tools and shored up capitalization for repair and fleet maintenance activities and activating a new planned maintenance schedule regime.
Realizing that highly sophisticated vessels and most modern equipment will serve no useful purpose if there are no well-trained manpower to operate and maintain them, Ezeoba embarked on a conscious and calculated investment in training and upgrading the competence of his officers and men.
He organized combined drills and naval exercises with Navies across the Gulf of Guinea, United States and Europe, specifically OBANGAME EXPRESS and AFRICAN WINDS; he ensured the participation of the NNS THUNDER as the only representative from Africa in the Royal Australian Navy International fleet review in Sydney;
hosted several warships from the shores of South Africa, Cameroon, United Kingdom, France, Spain, Netherlands, Italy and Brazil in operational, tactical drilling exercises/evolution thereby giving room to Nigerian Naval officers to share notes in operational efficiency and interoperability.
To ensure that the top officers’ corp attained global standard and reckoning, he embarked on the formation of a strategic partnership on leadership management trainings through world leading research institutions such as Harvard Business School, Lausanne Business School; Switzerland for the senior officers cadre.
In ensuring that the guard builds a consistent stream of elite officers and combatants, a wide variety of affirmative actions were instituted, among which are – the accreditation of Nigerian Navy Engineering College as a Polytechnic and establishing of a post graduate school in same, an upgrade to the status of a college was also carried out on the Nigerian Finance and Logistics School.
The NNS QUORRA facility was also rejigged to enhance its importance as a training hub in the Gulf of Guinea sub-region.He also exposed the technical personnel to MTU Engineering training in Singapore to enhance their technical capacity to conduct first and second line maintenance.
It is this quest for human capacity development that inspired him to conceive and build the acclaimed state of the art modern secondary school in Ibusa, to serve as a centre of academic excellence for the wards of Naval personnel and civilians. This first class cradle of learning has since been upgraded to a university by the federal government.
Confident that he presided over a military institution that was able and capable, he confronted economic saboteurs with uncommon zeal and resolve.
Ask the captain and crew members of MT NORTE loaded with 17, 00 metric tons of gasoline hijacked within Nigerian waters by deadly and subversive sea pirates, but were rescued at just the nick of time through the bravery efforts of the Navy seals under the command of Admiral Ezeoba as the Naval Chief. And if you think this was just a one off event, hold your breath and wait for it, within the 14 months of his stewardship, 66 more of sea robbery and piracy related issues were successfully routed.
Indeed, the ombudsman of the petroleum industry, the oil production trade section of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce, did record a significant reduction of crude oil theft on Nigerian waters from 200, 000 barrels per day to about 40, 000 barrels per day during his stewardship.
It also chronicled the seizure of about 70 vessels many of which were oil cargoes, 2, 278 suspects, 1, 973 illegal oil refineries, 119 barges, 1, 717 wooden boats and about 73, 927 auxiliary equipment, all apprehended for storming havoc on the country. In one phrase, it was an occupation to reign in evil.
All of these were results of investments that have led to an institutional uplift for the Navy seal, an accomplishment that has now gone beyond his time of service at the helms of Nigerian Navy top command.
For Admiral Dele Joseph Ezeoba, ending his military career on a glorious note of outstanding accomplishments and enduring legacy was the outcome of a resolve to make an indelible footprint on the sand of time. History will recall his tour of duty with astounding applause.
By Boonyamin Giwa